Skiing and Snowboarding
Most of the developed winter recreation areas are in the southern third of the province. Whether you’re a total beginner or an advanced daredevil, BC resorts have a slope to suit you. The price of lift tickets is generally reasonable, and at the smaller, lesser-known resorts, you don’t have to spend half your day lining up for the lifts.
The best known of all Canadian winter resorts is Whistler/Blackcomb, north of Vancouver, but others scattered through the southern interior provide world-class skiing and boarding on just-as-challenging slopes. The best of these include: Big White Ski Resort and Silver Star Mountain Resort in the Okanagan Valley; Red Mountain and Whitewater near Nelson; Fernie Alpine Resort near Fernie; Panorama Mountain Resort near Invermere; and Sun Peaks Resort north of Kamloops. In the north, Powder King, north of Prince George, lives up to its name with an average annual snowfall around 12 meters (39 feet)—among the highest of any North American resort. You can even go skiing and boarding out on Vancouver Island at Mt. Washington Alpine Resort.
Heli- and Sno-Cat Skiing and Boarding
Alternatives to resorts are also available. If you’re an intermediate or advanced skier or snowboarder, you can go heli-skiing and heli-boarding in the mind-boggling scenery and deep, untracked powder of the Coast and Chilcotin Ranges, the central Cariboo Mountains, the Bugaboos, and the BC Rockies. The world’s largest heli-ski operation is CMH Heli-skiing (403/762-7100 or 800/661-0252, www.cmhski.com), founded by Austrian mountain guide Hans Gmoser in the Bugaboos in 1965. Today the operation has grown to include almost limitless terrain over five mountain ranges accessed from 11 lodges. Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing (250/673-8381 or 800/661-9170, www.wiegele.com) offers heli-skiing and heli-boarding in the Monashee and Cariboo Mountains from a luxurious lodge at Blue River.
Another, less-expensive alternative is to hook up with one of the many Sno-Cat operations in the province. Sno-Cats are tracked, all-terrain vehicles that can transport skiers and boarders up through the snow to virgin slopes in high-country wilderness (similar to snow groomers but capable of carrying passengers). British Columbia has been a world leader in this type of skiing, and many operators are scattered through the province. Through its location amid some of the continent’s most consistent powder snow and because of its luxurious lodgings, Island Lake Lodge near Fernie (250/423-3700 or 888/422-8754, www.islandlakelodge.com) has gained a reputation for both its Sno-Cat skiing and its accommodations.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition